If you know your Greek Mythology, you may have heard of Pandora’s Box. Opening it unleashed many horrors on the world, or so the story goes. While similarly named with the myth, the Pandora Papers do not unleash horror, they unleash the truth.
The Pandora Papers is a data leak exposing the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires. Investigative journalists from all over the world have come together to uncover the hidden fortunes of the most powerful people in the world. This includes celebrities and politicians from even our own country, Malaysia.
The Pandora Papers are far from the first data leak. In 2016, 2017 and 2020, three other data leaks were released, called the Panama Papers, Paradise Papers and the FinCen Files. However, the Pandora Papers is the largest data leak with 2.94 terabytes of data from 14 offshore service providers. It is also far-reaching, covering Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington DC obtained the data. They gave 600 journalists from 117 countries remote access to the data, which included Malaysiakini.
According to the ICIJ, over 35% of former and current world leaders are facing allegations of corruption, money laundering and global tax evasion. These include our current and former finance ministers, other politicians and fugitive businessman Jho Low (Low Taek Jho)’s parents.
Finance minster Tengku Zafrul Aziz’s name appeared as the director of Capital Investment Band (Labuan) Ltd which is a boutique bank operating in the offshore jurisdiction of Labuan. Although his aide has declared that he is no longer a director, it was not mentioned when the finance minister resigned.
Tun Daim Zainuddin has claimed his dealings are legitimate. The former finance minister had made it clear that he has always paid taxes for all investments and properties in any jurisdiction. However, his family and known associates jointly hold companies and trusts worth at least £25 million (about RM141 million). Additionally, his family is heavily involved in several offshore companies which hold properties in London. Daim claims the trusts are part of “estate planning”.
Aside from our ministers, our local politician made the list too. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was found to be a director of the Rising Resources (BVI) Ltd company which had a share capital of US$50,000 in 1999. However, it never declared the nature of its business before it was “struck off” due to dormancy. Zahid has yet to comment on the matter.
Parents of Jho Low, Larry Low Hock Ping and Goh Gaik Ewe, were linked with the Coswell Corporation and Strategic Equities Ltd. Coswell purportedly was involved in property investments in London via Trident Trust (BVI) in 1991. The investments had an asset value of US$2 million while Strategic Equities had shares in Frencken Group Ltd (Singaporean industrial and precision machine manufacturer) worth US$5 million. However, both Larry and Goh were listed as clients of Trident Trust despite their links to the 1MDB scandal.
Aside from the aforementioned names, deputy finance minister and Sipitang MP Yamani Hafez Musa, Selayang MP William Leong and Mahmud Abu Bekir, son of former Sarawak governor Abdul Taib Mahmud were listed for various holdings. Rimbunan Hijau Group chairperson Tiong Hiew King, Jayatiasa director Tiong Ik King, Westports Holdings executive chairperson and director G Gnanalingam and Genting Group chairperson Lim Kok Thay were also mentioned.
Although there were several names listed from Malaysia, it’s only a small fraction of the exposé. Many other world leaders financial affairs were leaked causing widespread shock. These include King Abdullah of Jordan, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis and Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family.
The Jordan king reportedly holds several properties worth millions via offshore companies while Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis failed to declare an estate on the French Riviera purchased in 2009. Both have since denied any wrongdoing. The Aliyevs were noted to have traded around a UK property worth US$540 million in recent years. Currently, they are undergoing an internal review on the purchase.
Having offshore entities is not illegal, but the practice is commonly used to dodge taxes. As for whether the Pandora Papers will have a lasting effect on the world, it remains to be seen.
As ICIJ’s director, Gerard Ryle pointed out, those who could end the secrecy of offshore companies are the ones benefiting from it. Will they do the right thing and make their finances transparent? Or will they continue their secrecy and gain from it?